Getting to the Table: The Struggle of African Americans to Acquire Leadership Positions in Academia

By Marcia Boyd, Chicago Chapter, President

The Past . . .

Harvard University, the first institution of higher education in the United States, was established in 1636.  Over 200 years after it was established, Harvard graduated its first Black student, Richard Theodore Greener in 1870.  Although Harvard University is the nation’s oldest college/university, Alexander Twilight, is the first known African American college graduate.  He obtained a bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College (founded in 1800) in Vermont in 1823.  It took many years for colleges and universities in the United States to admit and graduate African Americans nationally.  (  This could not have happened without legislation granting us citizenship and a variety of legislative actions to provide land grants to religious institutions to establish Historically Black Colleges and Universities.  Bearing in mind that African Americans were not considered citizens, in fact, until the 13th amendment declared African Americans “free” and the 14th amendment gave us full citizenship, we were not provided access to any form of education as legal citizens. We also must bear in mind, that the U.S. educational system, in particular, the university world was not designed with African Americans in mind.

The Stats . . .

African Americans have made great strides within the last century with respect to earning undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees in the United States.  We only

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“If you are not at the table you are probably on the menu” -Elizabeth Warren

represented 7% of those receiving master’s degree in 1976, by 2015, this had almost doubled to 13.56%  and our Ph.D. degree attainment has risen from 4.1% in 1976 to 8.4% in 2015 (

There are over 1.3 million postsecondary teaching positions in the country with a projected growth rate of 15% over the next decade for postsecondary educators, unfortunately, African Americans only comprise a small percentage of full-time faculty.  According to the results of a survey conducted by the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, reviewing the numbers of Black faculty at selective universities, the most selective liberal arts colleges, and the 50 flagship state universities, only 5% of nation-wide full-time faculty are Black.  (

The Landscape. . .

Since there are so many postsecondary teaching positions available, the question begs, “Why aren’t there more African Americans in teaching positions at universities?  My guess is because there is elitism.  Quite often highly selective colleges and universities are seeking certain “types” of people to bring into their universities.  For sistas who don’t fit the mold, i.e., not white, male and/or graduates of a highly selective universities, it may be difficult to be afforded the opportunity to secure a coveted tenure track position.  If you happen to acquire a full-time, tenure track teaching position, your next challenge will be to be granted tenure.

The Importance . . .

If we expect to be a part of the projected 15% growth in postsecondary teaching positions within the next decade, we must prepare and position ourselves for success. Here are a few tips for navigating the postsecondary teaching terrain.

How to navigate the terrain . . .

When a sista or brother is considering teaching in higher education/university/academia, there are a few things to consider:

  1. What is the type of college/university where you would like to teach? Research Institution? Highly Selective? Ivy League? Flagship University? Private, liberal arts? Historically Black College or University? Community College?
  2. Do you have the academic credentials that the type of institution that you’re seeking employment in requires? Ph.D.? J.D., Ed.D. M.F.A?
    1. For example, if you are seeking employment at a PWI (Predominantly White Institution), do you have the pedigree they are seeking (i.e., do most of their faculty have degrees from Ivy League institutions?) Are their certain types of degrees the department is seeking – Ph.D. opposed to an Ed.D? ). Does the institution have a commitment to diversity as evidenced by African Americans having tenure track (full-time faculty positions)? Do you have any publications or significant research projects?
  3. Are you involved in professional organizations that faculty at your preferred institution(s) are members of?
  4. Are your networking skills up to par? How does your LinkedIn profile compare to faculty who are teaching at your preferred institutions of higher education?
  5. Are you seeking positions on job search engines that focus on diversity in higher education?
    1. Higher Ed Jobs: – Diversity & Inclusion Email
    2. Academic & Diversity Search:
    3. Diverseed Jobs:
  1. Are you a member of professional higher education organizations for people of color?
    1. Association of Black Women in Higher Education:
    2. Blacks in Higher Education:
    3. National Association of Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (African American Knowledge Center):
    4. Higher Education Recruitment Consortium (Diversity Resources) – African American):

As we celebrate our accomplishments as African American educational leaders, we must be in a position to make decisions and shape the lives of brothers and sistas coming behind us.  If we are not at the table, we will not be able to affect the future.



Lift As We Climb

Originally posted 6/7/17 by JMickey

I think that to bring the motto “Lift as We Climb” into present day context we must first acknowledge where we are. Our collective trauma is a result of over a century of enslavement, followed by a century more of blatant racism and socioeconomic discrimination, and then this…this quiet insidious kind, that was so long discredited and invisible, has led us here. To this. Now.

We are now at a point when racial tensions seem again to be at an all-time high. People walk around angry and fearful constantly. There’s a hypervisibility of black bodies and lives. The full extent and impacts of systemic discrimination and racism are being widely exposed in ways that they haven’t been since the Civil Rights Movement (maybe in ways that they have never been, considering all of the different apparatus’ we have for sharing media these days).

It’s as if the country was shell shocked, stumbling deaf and blind out of the 60s, numb and tired, and easily lulled by the lullaby of a false and fragile unity.

But people are waking up.

And now that they’re “woke” the question that follows: What can I do?

The issues seem massive, ungraspable even to the mind, let alone the hands. The topic of racism is not easily grappled with, applicable solutions even more elusive. It can be overwhelming to imagine you must take on the weight of this consciousness alone.

But you must not, in fact, you cannot. You should not.

There are so many lines that divide our community; color, class, gender, sexuality, ability, etc. As we’ve been given more time, more freedom, to explore our diversity (as all ingroups eventually do, when extinction seems less imminent), we’ve lost sight of what pulls us together.

We’ve stopped being a collective. We’ve dissolved what tentative ties we had to one another in the names of progress, or assimilation, or survival.

As Black Americans, our collective history is entangled with so much struggle and pain. No wonder we try so hard to distance ourselves from one another when what so often ties us together is trauma.

But we must remember that, however short, our history is much more than this. There is also accomplishment and ingenuity. There is talent, and genius, and creativity, and joy.

We are so much more than our struggle.

We are so much more than our pain.

Yes, we are in a war, fighting on multiple fronts for our generation and the next, in hopes that the world will yield, will bend to our will for justice, and equality, and change. Yet and still we need to lift each other up. We need to share lightness, and love, and laughter. We need silliness, spontaneity, spirituality.

We need to reach out hands to one another, not only to help and advocate for those of us who cannot do for themselves, but also to support those that are already doing so. We all need a hand, sometimes, to be reminded that we are not alone in this climb.

You are not alone in this climb.

Single Still:  The Plight of the Over-Achieving Black Women

By Colleen Winn

So many of my cohort and sister friends are powerhouses in the board room; in their classrooms; in their designated work spaces; they hold audiences captivated as they craft thought-provoking and intellectual stimulating seminars and talks; they are corporate CEO’s; community builders; they lead movements; the brains behind the brawns; go-getters; the shark in the shark tank; they are degree laden; architects of higher thought; six figure makers; attractive; SINGLE…………

I am black, educated, confident, articulate, self-sufficient and I think this makes me sexy as hell but for now ….. I Am Single Still.

I am not espousing that singleness is a curse, a space that should only be held by the depraved and by the losers of our society who have nothing of substance to offer another human being. Nor am I judging or adding value to those who are seated at the perverbial table of equally yoked. The bible even speaks to “singleness” as a gift and a calling BUT a gift and calling of choice. The concept of CHOICE is critical and empowering!

I read recently in an article “today there’s a very significant number of professional Black women who have positioned themselves for success with BA’s, MD’s, as well as PhD’s but 70% of them are still without the more elusive title: ‘MRS” (  When we consider the dwindling pool of eligible men,, based on a number of theorized or real factors, there is a certain bleakness that starts to suffocate even my “I am going to be alright” attitude. I intentionally did not use the descriptive “Black” because this is not just a lack of “Black men” issue. We ask ourselves over and over, what is wrong with Black men, White men, just men in general today.

Then we hold up the mirror and reflect that it must be us, you, me… has to be!

Maybe we are just too…

tooToo ________, too __________!

Maybe we are.  Ouch!!

Should we reembrace the anthem, “I can bring home the bacon, and fry it up in a pan, and never let you forget you’re a man … cause I’m a WOMAN” into our daily lives?

Maybe what makes us bad asses in the boardroom, makes us intimidating in the bedroom. Maybe we have forgotten how to translate and transfer those ambitious skills from one setting to the next. Maybe we have forgotten and despise what and how our mothers lived, loved, and prioritized more traditional lifestyles. Maybe we are…Maybe we have…Maybe we…Maybe…  Your Thoughts?

I’m not “Crazy”

2016 Minority MH Prevalance Infographics-Black AA

I know from personal experience just how very important it is to prioritize black mental health. I have experienced symptoms of depression and anxiety since my sophomore year in high school (that’s about a decade now), and have only really understood what that meant and how it has affected me in the past two. I was never diagnosed officially, never sought diagnosis because I felt such shame about how I was feeling for the longest time.

I thought: “Just pull yourself together; just be better. Why are you doing this to yourself ? Just choose to be happy. You’re not crazy.” Continue reading “I’m not “Crazy””

Black Female Representation in Mainstream Media

The topic of black women in mainstream media is very salient one. Just recently Hollywood has been buzzing with the movie Girls Trip, raking in a cool $30.4 million in its weekend debut. The movie is said to be the funniest comedy of the year, and while it is incredibly lighthearted this film’s depiction of black women carries a lot of weight. Very rarely are black women, especially black women that are 30+ yrs of age, shown to be fun-loving and carefree. They haven’t been given the space to have narratives like that. Similarly, black women are rarely given the screen-time to express, and have full agency in, their sexuality. This film does both!

Historically, (with the exclusion of tv and films largely viewed and marketed toward black audiences, many of which aired in the 90s – think Living Single, A Different World, etc.) mainstream media has given black women very restricted roles to play. We are often relegated to the “mammy” or “jezebel” stereotypes. The mammy is dehumanized and devalued as a lesser intelligent, and often humorous, character. The jezebel’s dehumanization happens through her hyper-sexualization. She’s the lure, the beguiling homewrecker that draws men into her trap, destroying “good” (read: white) marriages and “good” (read: white) families.

Even contemporary depictions of black women tend to fall into this tired trope, one such example being Scandal. Many could say that Olivia Pope is one of the most empowering black female roles we’ve seen in recent mainstream television. Yet and still, her relationship with the president, a white man, is shown to break apart his marriage and be a risk to the continued success of the country as a whole (seeing as Fitz is shown to, time and again, run away from his duties to be with Olivia). His wife is still the victim, and Olivia is still a villain, not given the rights or respect she deserves as his long time lover.

Black women are often portrayed as one dimensional characters, painted with broad strokes. One of the better portrayals of a black woman I have found that defies the mammy stereotype is Annalise in “How to Get Away with Murder”. Annalise is a middle aged black woman, well established as a high powered lawyer (which is, in itself, immediately defiant of expectations). She is incredibly intelligent, ruthless, and cutting. She cheats and uses people, and she does it in a world where that is expected and venerated. Far from falling into the “overly passionate angry black woman” stereotype , she is portrayed as calculating, almost cold.

However, she is also vulnerable at times; she gets hurt, she gets tired, she cries. She is at once cunning, conniving, and compassionate, at least to some. She’s given the space to be all of this, and more still, a sexual being with agency.

See, Annalise also happens to be bisexual, and is shown in canonical sexual relationships with both men and women. In both situations she knows what she wants and is able to express it. She isn’t desexualized in the least, which would be expected for a character in her age range. Whatever my other issues with the show, and the show’ s other characters, Annalise remains one of the most candid and complex black female characters I have seen in mainstream media, period, and I applaud HTGAWM (and Viola Davis) for that.

Black actresses have a difficult time finding roles in Hollywood because people in the business still buy into these stereotypes of type casting. Yet, it is so important that we have dynamic representation. Not only for those young women looking out into the world to see positive images of themselves reflected back at them, but also to challenge long held stereotypes of what black women are and who black women can be.

I’m glad for Girls Trip’s success and hope that we see much more success like it in the near future.

Silencing Black Girls: A Texas Schoolgirl’s Story

Silencing Black Girls (Link)

Colleen Winn

I am a child of the sixties and seventies with my social consciousness starting to take cognizance by the late 70’s. My experiences with my surroundings were colored and shielded by the lenses created by my parents which were in direct opposition to each other. My world was monochromatic and the effect of our relationships were nuanced by our social, educational, and gender stature.

The fallout from the U.S. Supreme Courts 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision had not really trickled down to many of the schools in Texas so they remained virtually segregated. Rather they were equal or not, I had no sound basis for comparison. My reality was not affected by the debate of equal access or separate but equal. My reality was affected by the fact that I was growing up in the 5th Ward section of Houston, Texas and even more real; I was growing up in the “projects.” I realized years later that teachers, and others not from this reality, saw me as damaged goods with not much of a prosperous future.

Continue reading “Silencing Black Girls: A Texas Schoolgirl’s Story”